Meta’s Private Speech Governance and the Role of the Oversight Board: Lessons from the Board’s First Decisions


The Oversight Board, Meta’s project over three years in the making, began handing down its decisions in early 2021. Envisioned as a “Supreme Court”-type body for Meta’s speech governance regime, this new institution has been plagued with doubts from its inception. Analysis of the Board’s first decisions reveals its ingenuity, its potential, and its willingness to criticize its maker. However, its decisions also reveal the Board’s institutional pitfalls. The Board is a key institutional player in the emerging private governance of online speech and speakers. It has, largely of its own volition, created a methodology for its decision-making based on International Human Rights Law (IHRL) and norms, particularly those around freedom of expression and limitations on this freedom according to the principles of proportionality, necessity, and legitimacy. However, this produces an internal incoherency within Meta’s speech governance regime; the Board promulgates an IHRL-based rights adjudication framework, whereas Meta itself, through both human and automated moderation, adopts a probabilistic method, where rights abrogation is accepted as inevitable and built into content moderation processes and technologies. This internal tension, which has come to the fore through the Board’s reasoning and decision-making, evinces the relatively constrained role the Board can play in mandating the improvement of Meta’s corporate standards and practices in terms of freedom of expression outcomes, or in providing increased accountability and transparency outcomes for users and the broader public. The Board’s institutional constraints serve to maintain the status quo of Meta’s private governance regime, which serves to exclude certain speech and speakers, marginalize certain voices and amplify others, mirroring and reinforcing the existing dynamics of social, political, and economic hierarchy and stratification which exist offline.


Stanford University Stanford, California
  • Ruby O'Kane, Meta’s Private Speech Governance and the Role of the Oversight Board: Lessons from the Board’s First Decisions, 25 Stan. Tech. L. Rev. 167 (2022).
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